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      In light of the collapse of the Ruble I think it’s worth revisiting what controls exchange rates. Supply and Demand. Yeah, if you know something about the subject you’re probably shaking your head. Supply and Demand doesn’t set prices in many cases in the way that an Economics 101 course tells you. Such texts will [...]
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Well, of course he’s going to meet with the suits

I’ve read posts by Charles Pierce, Digby and Atrios lamenting how Obama has decided to hold a “leadership” meeting with the big bank ceos who got us into this mess to discuss the details of the Grand Bargain.

It sounds a lot like crocodile tears.

Look, you guys KNEW when you were cheering for him (or cheering against Mitt Romney) last year that he kisses the bankers’ collective asses.

What I can’t understand is how it is that such a bunch of smart people could only see two possible options last year.  You didn’t even try to challenge Obama and put the fear of God into him.  So, stop your “shock!” and righteous indignation or pointless navel gazing about why the “culture of smartness” does what it does and cuts ordinary people out of directing their own fates. You’re either useful idiots doing the party’s work or you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are.

There are always multiple solutions to the problem.  You need to think outside the box, possibly take the long view and stop being such whiny ass titty baby cowards about what is happening to your formerly safe spot in the Democratic party.

They moved your fucking cheese.  Get on with it.

O-care

Paul Krugman’s latest column is about the mess of our national health care system.  He makes a good point about how social insurance programs make us freer people, allowing us to change jobs and start new enterprises without the fear of economic catastrophe.  But I’m not sure the so-called “jahb creators” care about economic catastrophes that happen to ordinary people.  To them, the only thing that counts is success.

I’ve got to admire Paul’s sunny optimism about Obamacare but, frankly, I think it’s a pretty fricking bad piece of legislation that didn’t rein in health care costs, locked us into a decidedly UN-free marketplace  with zero competition, and was only achieved by throwing women’s right to an abortion under a bus.  So, you know, there’s that.  I don’t particularly like Obama’s method of getting universal healthcare.

It beats me why he didn’t take his own state of Hawaii as a model for healthcare where employers can choose from several tiers of coverage for their employees, from basic coverage to more swank.  Oh, wait, that sounds more like what Hillary proposed during the 90s.  You know, the system that everyone whined was too complicated?

At this point, I would take even a basic plan.  My COBRA coverage runs out at the end of this month. I can’t complain about my insurance provider, except for the outrageous premium, even with group rates.  The coverage was superb. That’s what my French company negotiated for us. But getting insurance on the open market is fairly terrifying.  I will be looking into CHIP programs for the kid.  It’s going to be an adventure.  Spending hours and days trying to justify my need after the decades I spent as a hard-working taxpayer is not how I want to spend my time.

But you already knew that

crocusesMy new house, and some other stuff, has been consuming all of my attention lately.  You really feel the price of gas when you have to make long and/or repetitive trips.  The good news is that work is getting done on the new house.  I was there last Saturday, the birds were a-chirpin’ and the crocuses were a-bloomin’ and from my front porch, I can see for miles and miles almost down to the Allegheny River.

Anyway.

I followed some links from this post at Corrente to a James K. Galbraith piece at a German site that spells it out for the terminally slow (or in this case, the Europeans) out there in case they didn’t pick up on it during the 2008 election.  Galbraith boils down my five years of panic and alarm ringing succinctly:

Obama is no progressive


The debt deal will make things clear. The President is not a progressive – he is not what Americans still call a “liberal.” He is a willful player in an epic drama of faux-politics, an operative for the money power, whose job is to neutralize the left with fear and distraction and then to pivot rightward and deliver a conservative result.

What Barack Obama got from the debt deal was exactly what his sponsors have wanted: a long-term lock-in of domestic spending cuts, and a path toward severe cuts in the core New Deal and Great Society insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And, of course, no tax increases at all.

To see the arc of political strategy, recall that from the beginning Obama handed economic policy to retainers recruited from the stables of Robert Rubin. From the beginning, he touted “fiscal responsibility” and played up the (economically non-existent) “problem” of the budget deficit. From the beginning his team sabotaged economic recovery with optimistic forecasts and inadequate programs – in the clear interest of protecting the banking system from reform.

[…]

For European observers, one key to understanding how such things can happen in America is to remember that our presidencies are short. The professors who joined Obama for his opening act have already gone home. The advisers who remain face dreary futures in think-tanks funded by the likes of Michael Milken, our premier financial ex-felon.

Maybe, if they are especially loyal to their true masters, then like the former budget director Peter Orszag they can go to work for a bank. This surely accounts in part for their present actions.

And the President too is a young man. Unlike say Lyndon B. Johnson or Jimmy Carter, when his term ends he won’t be able simply to go home. He’ll need a big house in a gated suburb, with high walls and rich friends. And a good income, too, from book deals and lecture fees. He may be thinking about that now.

The good news is: it won’t save him. For if and when he ventures out, for the rest of his life, the eyes of all those, whose hopes he once raised will follow him. The old, the poor, the jobless, the homeless: their eyes will follow him wherever he goes.

I think that last sentence is true.  Barack Obama will go down in history as the worst president we’ve ever had, a true Sheriff of Nottingham.  Not only that but I fear he has set back the progress that African Americans have made in the past 50 years.  How ironic is that?  He’s certainly done a number on women.  But don’t fret too much for him.  I’m sure his post-presidency money will make up for that.

In the comments of that Corrente post, I found a link to this CounterPunch article that shows how the faux progressive movement works.  Once again, the author has the benefit of five years to finally put the pieces together.  Some minds work faster than others, but because we documented it in real time, people didn’t take us seriously.  Either that or the progressive meme that we were racists scared decent people away- just as it was intended to do.  From the article, The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats, we get this nugget from Patrick Barrett at the University of Wisconsin:

“What gets lost in all this faux movement politics,” said Barrett,  “is any real challenge to the growing imbalance of social, political and economic power. Quite the contrary, the ultimate impact of their actions is to reproduce if not  aggravate that imbalance. What we’ve got here is a deeply symbiotic relationship between a pseudo-movement that derives its raison d’etre and financial vitality from a vilification of the right, which it has helped to create and without which it would have no reason for existence. Indeed, the more extreme the right becomes, the better it is for them, since they live off of fear-mongering. To oppose the right in a meaningful sense would put them out of business. That isn’t to say that there is nothing to be feared in the right or that some of these folks don’t think they’re fighting the good fight, but rather that the two work in tandem, much like a good-cop-bad-cop team. As the right becomes ever more extreme, this Democratic Party cum non-profit industrial complex moves further and further to the right itself, thereby giving the Republicans and their ilk ever greater leash and making it easier to frighten the “progressive” masses.”

Barrett concluded, “Lest anyone think that this is some kind of conspiracy theory, it’s important to emphasize that this is primarily a function of social and economic structures and political institutions that create a market for these sorts of pseudo-movement leaders, who will flourish if the conditions are right. That’s why we need to focus our attention on altering those conditions, something these people have little or no interest in doing.”

If anyone has spent the last five years wondering what happened to DailyKos, Josh Marshall and Digby, there’s your answer right there.  And if you’re wondering what happened to all the liberals in the Democratic party, well, we’re still in exile.

I’m voting for “they don’t know what they’re doing”

In case I wasn’t clear yesterday on why Obama is not a people person, allow me to explain by giving an example of how things have worked in the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to picking corporate CEOs.

Jeffrey Kindler was a Harvard educated lawyer who ran McDonald’s partner brands (Boston Market? Chipotle Grill?) before someone recruited him to be a chief council at Pfizer.  He worked his way up to CEO and continued the rampage of buying and merging that his predecessor started.  By 2010, the bloated behemoth that was Pfizer, and all that it had swallowed, had lost 35% of its stock value.  All of my former colleagues at Wyeth were laid off in one fell swoop in 2009 and only a handful were hired back.  That was 19,000 people at Wyeth alone.  It was brutal and indiscriminate.  There were dedicated and excellent scientists who lost their careers in the middle of the Great Recession.  They did nothing wrong.  They were simply in the wrong place when a former McDonald’s executive decided to perform a little exploitative profit mining by absorbing the Wyeth pipeline, but, ehhhh, not all the research people who, you know, did all the work.

The pharmaceutical industry is full of stories like that.  There are many executives who know next to nothing about the industry they are managing. Their minions have the idea that the research staff are like day laborers whose jobs can be broken down into a series of burger flipping tasks, taking all of the curiosity and spontaneity out of the experimental process in order to save money.  It’s short sighted, destructive and shows a profound lack of understanding of the scientific method. But that’s not why the big executives were recruited.  They were recruited to make the shareholders money and right now, monetary incentives are not in the area of investing in science and research, which can be expensive and unpredictable.  Incentives run towards “get rich quick” schemes and extraction of value.

The damage has been done to many pharmas but the extraction will continue to the point of no return because the executives who are running these businesses don’t really understand the nature of the companies they run.  But that’s not why they were hired.  If they were hired to run research organizations, it wouldn’t be done this way. And the people that are hired to be executives are really not that much different than the people who run Wall Street.  They have an academic pedigree. These people are snobs.  It’s like an aristocracy.  There’s a level of ass-kissing but probably not as much as you think.  It’s more cutthroat than that.  More dog-eat-dog.  It’s a lot less glad handing than back room deals and “strike first” maneuvers.  What’s missing in all of the power grabbing is good management.

This is the world that Barack Obama comes from or could fit into easily.  He’s got the right pedigree, the right degree of ruthlessness and he’s more interested in “winning” by striking the right deal than driven by well-crafted policy.  The fact that he was African American was just icing on the cake to his recruiter.  It made for good theater and it gave them a hefty cudgel of racism to bash anyone who dared to criticize him.

This is not a world that values good management.  Day to day management and good stewardship gets in the way of the power game and winning.  Just look at the way Obama’s administration is planning to roll out the PR offensive for 2014.  It’s going to be about issues the administration’s brain trusts think will distract the Republicans.  It’s not about jobs or the economy.  It’s going to be about gun control.  Granted, gun control is important but it’s not going to put food on the table or fix what ails the economy.  And it could be a giant miscalculation.  But mostly, it’s game playing that is disconnected from the boring tasks associated with serving the people and governing well.

This is what the MBA/bonus/corporate lawyer class has been up to.  Given the disaster that the pharmaceutical industry is in, with layoffs a constant feature, a permanently underemployed research sector, perpetual restructuring and concentration of projects in cancer and orphan drugs to the exclusion of almost everything else, I’d have to say that they don’t know what they are doing.    These are not very imaginative people.  They’re not creative.  They follow trends and do what all their friends do just like brainless lemmings and I don’t mean to offend lemmings. Once they get it into their heads to extract a wealth, they have to come up with an excuse for doing it.  Then they decorate that excuse with biz speak and hypnotic memes so that before long, everyone is repeating the same damn things without any clue what it all means.

They can’t be trusted with their own checkbooks much less running big organizations or branches of government.  And in this environment, where crafting deals behind closed doors is where the real work takes place, glad handling and cultivating political relationships is a tedious, boring process done for show.  Pretty soon, we won’t need politicians at all.

************************************************

I found this while I was searching for more Tony Robinson’s documentaries on youtube.  This sums up 5 years of anger and frustration.  I couldn’t have said it better myself:

Obama not a people person

Digby speculates on whether Washington establishment types are just being peevish or whether Obama really doesn’t think he personally needs to interact with politicians.

There is a third possibility.  He was hired for his looks.  Yep.  He’s got the right credentials for his employers.  The right academic pedigree, the right insane ambition, the lack of any partisanship whatsoever.  But the fact that he was an attractive African American candidate made him seem unbeatable to the scouts. He didn’t need to be a gifted politician.  In the political skills department, he has about as much as George W. Bush has. He just needed some clever speechwriter to craft some aspirational shit that liberals would eat up about being a transcendent figure who would unite the country.

It doesn’t really matter what he does now that he’s in office.  He’s just a figurehead.  His employers bought off the right people and they’re the ones who are actually running the show.  He doesn’t have to be nice to people or shake hands and it’s not really important that he crafts policy or anything like that.

Obama could decide to take the rest of the term off and the executive branch would continue to function just fine.  The policies that are going to be implemented could happen whether or not he shows up or takes the day off and golfs with Tiger Woods.  His meteoric rise to instant stardom didn’t require him to assemble a coalition of political friends and assets nor did it require him to do any heavy lifting in the policy department.  He was protected zealously in the campaign arena and the only person to challenge him was Hillary Clinton.  After that, he decided to run against Sarah Palin.  Piece of cake.

So, if he’s not a people person, does it matter?

I thought the Bush years were long but with as much damage as the last 5 years have inflicted on me personally, the Obama years just seem interminable.

Obama wants to screw us out of our Social Insurance accounts. Also, water is wet.

No shit, Digby.

Do you remember how you spent the last year of your life making a big f^&*ing deal about Mitt Romney’s hijinks in prep school?  How about how mean he was to the family dog?

And what did you do to make Obama feel uncomfortable?  Nothing.  That’s right.  You did nothing.  No, that’s not quite right.  You did WORSE than nothing because you wouldn’t even entertain challenging the party hierarchy.

So, now you’re mad that the dude is in the White House and he’s ready to cut the net out from under you after all those decades of Social Security, Medicare and surplus payments all we tail end babyboomers made “because we are too menny”.  NOW, you’re livid.

I hope you finally understand what has been pissing ME off since 2008 when it was perfectly clear that the Democrats were electing an MBA Bonus Class Corporate Ladder Climbing Stooge as a president.

There was no talking to you people but now, now that the actuality is upon you, now, you’re mad.  Not only are you mad but you actually seem surprised that they are using the sequester as an excuse to cut our social insurance policies.  It’s like they LIED to you and you didn’t even realize it.

Really, Digby?  Did you really not see this coming? At all??  I find that hard to believe but maybe it’s because I’ve actually worked in a ruthless, cutthroat corporate environment and I’ve seen that there’s nothing they won’t do to enhance shareholder value at your expense.  They’ll ruin their own brand and productivity just to make sure they have no obligation to you.  Obama reeks of that environment.

You carried his water and now he’s going to screw you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it unless you get on the horn with your congressperson (count yourself lucky if you don’t live in a gerrymandered district like I do) and complain.  It’s got to be loud and vociferous and constant until he/she gets the point.

Then, you need to get the band back together on the left and stop looking down your noses at those of us who saw this coming five years ago.  There needs to be a solid voting bloc to push back against this either in Tea Party format or as a separate entity.

You can get mad or you can get even.

I’d get even.

SOTU {{facepalm}}

There are two problems with the SOTU speech.  I don’t believe Obama and the Republicans have a gift for manipulation.  We need to learn how to monkeywrench that.

First, let’s start with Obama.  I don’t care what he said last night or what his delivery was like or even if some of his ideas were kinda, sorta in the vague general direction we need to go.  Even if he didn’t have a history of making you think he has your best interests at heart just before he delivers some incredibly weak policy, all his goodwill would have been negated when I heard this:

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

[yeah, yeah, all well and good but what’s this…?]

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

There are two problems with the idea that American needs more highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers from foreign countries.  The first is that it’s bullshit and the second is that Obama is getting his information from the same Wall Street braintrusts who ran our research complex into the ground.

Let’s take on the bullshit aspect first, shall we?  Since 2008, the biotech/pharma research sector has laid off over 100,000 scientists, the bulk of them in NJ.  Don’t believe me?  Check out FiercePharma Top 10 Layoffs for 2009 for a taste of the carnage.  As for foreign engineers needing to come here, I can only assume he means the kind of engineers they employ in the Apple plants in China.  Because I know American chemical engineers who are working in Canada and Japan because they can’t get a job in the United States.  So, the only reason I can think as to why we are bringing in foreign engineers is that the companies that want to hire them have been keeping perfectly good, highly skilled American engineers out of the labor market and now, realizing they actually need engineers, they want to bring in cheap labor from elsewhere.

It is the mark of a very disinterested, captured president if he is unwilling to address the real problem of unemployed American STEM workers, who apparently have no voice, in order to shut up the yammering from the executive suites of big companies.  He’d rather send our own American high tech workers out of the country and away from their families than ask companies to demonstrate why they need to be sitting on the pile of cash that should be wages.  This is shameful.

Secondly, about that entrepreneurship?  What exactly does he think R&D professionals are made of?  When we were working for corporations, we were not exactly making the big bucks.  Some of us came from the midwest and were dragged out to the most expensive areas of the country when our corporate overlords decided to merge their little hearts away.  THEN when those same corporate overlords realized that the cost of research was suddenly too high, because they vastly increased the cost of each scientist by moving them out to the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia, they unceremoniously laid our asses off and stranded us here.  The severance packages are temporary, mortgages are forever.

So, where exactly are we supposed to get money to be entrepreneurs?  I mean, who in their right mind would lend money to little biotech startups with a lead compound and expect that compound to go all the way through clinical to market?  Well, as we have seen from recent evidence, it is very, very difficult to start those kinds of businesses here because once the compound is at the development stage, you need to lay off early discovery personnel in order to have enough capital to see the drug through the next stage.  What foreign grad student would voluntarily come to America to put themselves through that  short employment cycle?  Why not go to Germany to study?  I would.  I wouldn’t waste my time struggling here in the US where you are expected to live on a pittance, public transportation is awful, healthcare is ridiculously expensive and you can’t buy a decent house on the $37K a year that you’ll be expected to make as a permanent post doc.

If Obama can’t get this one policy right with regard to the causes and effects of high unemployment among American STEM workers, I can’t believe he has a good grip on ANY economic issue.  It’s either willful ignorance on his part or he just doesn’t give a damn.

Look, guys, and by guys I mean the White House and Congress, high tech workers have to eat too.  You may think we’re all a bunch of unwashed geeks who eat Cheetos out of the vending machines and are awkward around the opposite sex but if you actually do any kind of investigation into the lives we live, you will see that we’re not that different from other “normal” Americans.  We like nice places to live that aren’t collapsing on us, decent transportation, a nice bottle of wine with dinner, trips to DisneyWorld with the kids we procreated and all the other stuff that makes life in the US worth living.  Whoever is telling you that STEM people are willing to work for post doc salaries until they get the brilliant idea that’s going to turn them into the next Thomas Edison is really not dealing well with reality.

Speaking of not dealing with reality well, Paul Krugman has a post on his blog about Marco Rubio’s response and how Rubio casually threw in this bit of, well, there’s no other way to say this, lying:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

Krugman says:

OK, leave on one side the caricature of Obama, with the usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does); there we go with the “Barney Frank did it” story. Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made, had nothing to do with it — it was all the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie, and Freddie.

Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.

This really isn’t about the GSEs, it’s about the BSEs — the Blame Someone Else crowd. Faced with overwhelming, catastrophic evidence that their faith in unregulated financial markets was wrong, they have responded by rewriting history to defend their prejudices.

This strikes me as a bigger deal than whether Rubio slurped his water; he and his party are now committed to the belief that their pre-crisis doctrine was perfect, that there are no lessons from the worst financial crisis in three generations except that we should have even less regulation. And given another shot at power, they’ll test that thesis by giving the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Since I am about to move into a neighborhood that was affected by the housing crisis (disclaimer: my new house is a foreclosed property in a neighborhood of them), I will be doing my own little bit of research on Rubio’s side of the story to determine what exactly went wrong but let me just say that I’m skeptical.  Not only am I skeptical about the cause of the disaster but I suspect that the true bad actors are still acting badly.  Check out this post by Dave Dayan at The New Republic to see how investment bankers are messing with the housing recovery.  I had a conversation with a realtor yesterday, a listing agent for foreclosed properties, who told me that the banks are a mess.  From his description, I get the image of banks out of control, restructuring constantly, trying to game the system on a minute by minute basis, unsure who gets what contract papers when and in what order and losing money for themselves and their investors in the process because the working environment is constantly shifting.  Of course, that is a much more complex and longer story to tell and besides, it doesn’t fit with the “these are not the droids you’re looking for” strategy  of deflecting blame from the big money donors of the Republican party so the general public is largely unaware of the bankers’ shenanigans and how they are setting communities, homeowners and renters up for even more destructive wealth extraction.

But what really floors me is how so many voters who lean conservative actually believe this crap.  Is it because the alternative explanations never get floated past them or that those alternatives are too complex?  Or is it because the conditioning is too ingrained?  Demographic trends will take care of much of negative effects to a critical mass of Americans but for the good of the country, we really need to figure out how to put a stop to allowing so much of our population to believe lies.  At the very least, there should be a truth in advertising statement for both the SOTU address and its responses.  But even that will be insufficient if there’s no way to effectively push back in such a way that an evidence based world is the operant one.

It’s a huge problem for both the left and the right.  If we don’t solve it, we might as well just let the plutocrats indenture us now.

Update: So, apparently the new meme is “Down with Austerity! Up with a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases!”  A “balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases” is still AUSTERITY.  I’m sorry, no matter how you slice it, when you cut spending in the midst of a depression, which is what we are in right now, the consequence is going to be AUSTERITY and a return to more recession.  Can we cut the crap already, Barry?  You need to spend money, the money you can get for ridiculously low interest rates, and put people back to work.  Anything else is AUSTERITY.

I blame the “progressives” who got us into this mess.  I will never, never forgive the assholes who got schmoozed by this Republican president in disguise.

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